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Cool Apps: Amazon Echo

Did you ever want a secretary that could answer questions all day? While Amazon’s Echo product can’t fetch coffee, it can perform all sorts of digital tasks that come up in daily life at work and at home.

The Echo Dot looks like a small speaker that sits on your desk or table or in your car. It’s enabled with voice recognition and can be integrated with hundreds of apps. Its voice, named Alexa, can answer questions, spend money, play games, control components of your house, play music, and act as an alarm clock. And that’s just for starters.

Alexa listens to your voice and responds. A few of the questions that Alexa is capable of answering correctly include:

“Alexa, how old is Matt Damon?”

“Alexa, where is the closest sushi restaurant?”

“Alexa, could you order a stapler from Amazon?”

“Alexa, open Amex.”

“Alexa, set a timer for 20 minutes.”

“Alexa, order a pizza.”

“Alexa, play music by Lorde.”

“Alexa, what’s on my calendar?”

With additional integrations, Echo can control room temperature and turn on lights. Echo’s range is one room in the house, and the biggest Echo fans have more than one in their house and one for the car.

Echo can be used for business or personal needs. Where it comes in for business is to give you insight in how your business ranks in voice search results. Ask Echo about your business by asking it to find a business similar to yours. For example, if you run a hair salon, ask Echo to find a hair salon. Does it mention yours or your competitor?

Echo can save you time, amuse your employees, and help you gain marketing insights into your business.

Could Your Business Survive a Disaster?

As business owners, we want to remain optimistic about our business’s future. But life can happen, and we need to be prepared.  A good business owner thinks about all the risks to their business and has a plan in place to reduce or eliminate them.  In 2017, we’ve already had floods in the Midwest and California, a healthy dose of tornadoes, and an ice storm earlier in the year.  And those are just the weather disasters. Are you ready?

In 2015, Nationwide ran a survey that revealed that three out of four small business do not have a disaster plan.  The same survey noted that 52 percent of small business owners thought it would take three months to recover from a disaster.

The most common solution is to create two plans:

  • A disaster recovery plan, which details the steps needed to recover the business from a catastrophic loss
  • A business continuity plan, which details the steps needed to keep the business running in case of a major loss, such as a loss of electricity, location, or key personnel

There’s a lot of help online to help you create your plan. A few of the major items that should be covered include:

  • Employee safety: you’ll need an evacuation plan in case of a disaster that is life- or health-threatening.
  • Communication plan: how will you reach employees in an emergency?
  • Electricity contingency: will you need to access a generator?
  • Internet contingency: can your business survive without the internet for long periods of time, or will you need to find a way to get connected?
  • Location contingency: if your worksite is inoperable, do employees have another place to report to?
  • Employee roles: who will carry out the plan?
  • Private data: how will you safeguard private company and customer data?
  • Systems: do you have an inventory of hardware and software, including vendor technical support contacts? How will you prioritize which system to get back up first? Do you have agreements with vendors who can come to your aid quickly?

Creating a disaster recovery plan can be the lowest priority item on your to-do list as a business owner – until it isn’t.  If you have a lot to lose, then consider spending some time on a plan to give you peace of mind.

The Power of Influencer Marketing

One of the hottest buzzwords in marketing this year is influencer marketing. Influencer marketing uses key people in thought leadership positions to spread the word about your brand.  These people may be paid or unpaid spokespersons for your brands, products, and services.

The profitable thing about influencer marketing is the leverage.  Instead of marketing or selling to one person at a time, you are marketing to key leaders with followings who can influence many people at once.

Influencer marketing varies by industry; here are some common examples:

  • Locating photos of your product already on social media and reaching out to those people to do more
  • Hiring a social media expert with a large following to talk about your clothing line
  • Having a prominent lifestyle blogger post a photograph containing your juice product
  • Starting a referral program for a makeup company so “regular” women will spread the word

The common theme to all of the above examples is finding people who have a huge number of followers that just happen to be your ideal customers.

To take advantage of this marketing method, ask yourself who is influential in your industry that has the ear and respect of your customer base. How could you partner with them so it’s a win for you, them, and their following?  You may or may not need to compensate them, depending on their revenue model.

There are plenty of apps to help you locate influencers relevant to you. A favorite is Ninja Outreach at ninjaoutreach.com.

Try reaching out to influencers to leverage your existing marketing and make your marketing dollars go farther.

Ready

contributed by Jaime Campbell, CPA, MBA, CGMA, CTT, MCT

 

 

You started your business with a vision.

You thought.

You worked.

You inspired.

You produced.

Sometimes, you slept.

 

You planned.

You hired.

You executed.

You delighted.

Sometimes, you cheered.

 

You strategized.

You managed.

You invented.

You chose.

Sometimes, you laughed.

 

You are growing.

You feel freedom calling

And you feel the squeeze

The bottlenecks

You hear your legacy calling

And you hear the competing voices

Of overwhelm

Of not-fast-enough

Of why-not instead of why-yes

Of not-enough instead of here’s-how

 

Join the community

Join the circle

Join the visionaries

The leaders

The possibilitarians

Across every century

Join the pathmakers

Welcoming your creation

Into creation

 

Get clarity

Get it real

Get your team

Get your legacy

What Is Reasonable Compensation?

For small businesses formed as an S Corporation and with plenty of profits, reasonable compensation is a term you may want to be familiar with.

Many small businesses have organized as an S Corporation form of entity.  In many cases, the S Corp election allows a business owner to save money on self-employment taxes, especially if they are operating as a sole proprietor. S Corp profits, or distributions, are not subject to payroll taxes.

If you are a business owner taking a salary and contributing substantially to the operations of the business, you may think that you should just take the distributions and forget the salary.  After all, think how much you would save in payroll taxes.  But this has already been tried and shot down by the IRS in the courts.  And this is where the term reasonable compensation comes in.

The IRS requires that business owners that perform a substantial contribution to the business be paid a salary according to a number of factors.  This is called reasonable compensation. You can’t pay yourself below market and take a large amount in distributions.

The IRS has issued a fact sheet that describes the guidelines that can be used to determine reasonable compensation. They include employee training, experience, duties, time spent, history of distributions, bonuses, and many other factors.

There are also reasonable compensation ramifications for C Corporations as well.

If reasonable compensation is an issue or concern for your business, please feel free to reach out and let us know how we can help.

So You Think You Can Scale (Part 2 of 2)

(6) Set up team-based communication systems and share information freely with your team leaders.
You heard me. I said team leaders, not team. Even if you think you don’t have enough people to have team leaders, let this sentence be the last time in your business life that you think that.

You relate differently with your team when you recognize that they’ll be leading the next people you hire:
· You’ll train them on your decision-making frameworks, not just give them your decision. You’ll give them resources, not just answers.
· You’ll make sure that their compensation plan aligns with being and becoming a leader.
· You’ll be crystal clear about where they need to follow your lead to the letter and where they have the freedom to create.

(7) Make your calendar strategically reflect reality.
Huh?
There are five classes of activities that fill the life, and therefore the calendar, of every successful business leader. Everything, yes everything, fulfills one of these functions:
· Administrative
· Sales
· Marketing
· Operations
· Personal

Use your calendaring system to block out all of the appointments and classes, and assign each class a color.

If your inner voice is saying, “I don’t have time for that!” then I assert that you’d rather be busy than wealthy. Go get a job and beef up your volunteering. You’ll be happier.
If your inner voice is saying, “I do three or four of these in any 15-minute block!” then I assert that you’re letting other people, each person with a separate set of individual priorities, dictate how you live your life. Whose organization is this, again? Whose life is this, again?

It’s time to design your time to scale.

That means designing your schedule.
That means grouping similar activity classes.
That means creating expectations with others so every block begins and ends on time.
That means reviewing your weekly calendar at a 10,000-foot level to make sure each color is represented in alignment with a scaling organization.

You’ll need to do some research that, or work with a consultant, if you don’t already know what the Scaling Palette needs to look like for your industry, business life cycle stage, and goals.

(8) What is your favorite technique for growing your organization without your life getting busier? Write it in the comments below.

Five Ways to Streamline Your Payroll Process

For business owners with employers, payroll is a necessary task that can slow your day and tie you down if you let it.  If you’re looking for a way to make payroll less time-consuming, here are five ideas you can put to good use:

  1. Employee Onboarding

If you hire a lot, empower your new hires by letting them do their paperwork for you.  A good payroll system allows employees to “onboard” themselves, completing the I-9, W-4, and direct deposit authorizations electronically, even before they show up for their first day. You’ll still need to ask for ID on their first working day, but at least you won’t have to do their paperwork for them.

  1. Integrate Employee Benefits

Rather than hire several separate companies to handle benefits, some payroll systems allow you to integrate benefits solutions right in their dashboard.  That way, you won’t have to re-enter employee data in multiple systems, which often gets out of sync.  Deductions and payments can also be integrated to save accounting time.

  1. Delegate Timesheet Entry

Require non-exempt employees to enter their own time; all you should have to do is approve it.  The right timesheet application can take care of that, and a great timesheet application will allow employees to enter time from multiple options, including timecard, cell phone, and others.

  1. Eliminate the Annual Worker’s Compensation Audit

Tie your worker’s compensation vendor to your accounting system, and you’ll be able to avoid that time-consuming annual reconciliation report required by your worker’s compensation insurance company.  You can also avoid the large annual payment because the insurance will be taken out each payroll cycle.

  1. Reduce the Frequency of Payroll

It’s not always possible, but if you can pay employees less frequently, you might be able to cut your payroll time in half.  Pay weekly employees every two weeks or pay bi-weekly employees monthly.  Reducing payroll frequency boosts cash flow as well.

Try one of these five ideas to streamline your payroll time and costs in your business.  And as always, let us know if we can help.

So You Think You Can Scale (post 1 of 2)

It starts with the formula (what else did you expect from me?) that many of us are taught from a young age:

I work -> I get results

Which, if you want to grow a business or a not-for -profit organization, is so horribly, horribly wrong.

Have you already discovered this?

The trick is to increase your organization’s impact without making yourself busier:

I work at creating systems and processes for my inspired team to follow -> I get BIGGER results

Same number of hours in your workday. Therefore…not busier.

What else?

 

(1) Make sure your business model is sustainable.

Never scale an organization that isn’t financially workable.

Unless you *want* to grow yourself out of business (see “How to Become an Employee”)

 

(2) Get the processes of your head.

Use checklists, flowcharts, cross-functional flowcharts, videos, screencasts, a knowledge base.

Or hire telepaths.

 

(3) Combine your processes for accountability and support.

Your empowered, inspired, and integrious team goes to a team-oriented project management tool such as Wrike or Asana that they use to proudly check off their completed tasks AND ask for help and support where they need it.

 

(4) Establish communication protocols.

E-mail is used for what kind of communications? Texting? Phone calls? Video calls? Webcast? Snail mail? Yammer? Instant messaging? Popping your head into someone’s office? Water cooler? Lunch?

To what extent do synchronous communications need to be scheduled in advance and when will you and your team be available to communicate synchronously? What is your organization’s commitment to turnaround time for asynchronous communication?

 

Guess what. You get to design this. You get to choose. Really.

 

(5) Make sure there is / Make sure you can create more market demand for what your organization does.

“But how could anyone NOT want our product/service?” I hear you ask.

No, you’re not asking that. You were actually paying attention while your currently-successful organization was getting off the ground.

So be ready to pivot if the market is changing. (Hint: The market is changing)

 

Which one of these does your organization currently have nailed? Which one of these is “what’s next” for your organization?

More to come next week!

Transform Small Donors into Major Donors

Your not-for-profit organization is making a profound difference in the lives of those served. You are busy, your staff is busy, your staff is busy, and it’s time to put the pedal to the floor and launch a Major Gifts campaign.

The organization has a strong fan base, and there are those who would like to really leave a legacy. But not everyone may be in a position to part with legacy-level dollars…

…while they are alive.

The answer: Life insurance.

Here’s how it works: A person can make a small or medium-sized donation to the charity of their choice. That charity uses those funds to purchase a life insurance policy on that donor, with the charity as the beneficiary. (The charity also creates a budget line item for the premiums in case the donations to cover the premium stop coming for whatever reason.) Upon the eventual passing of the donor, the benefit that the charity receives will be many times the sum donated over the years.

If it’s so straightforward, why aren’t I hearing about this all over the place? I hear you ask.

  • Certain institutions do this all the time, notably charities that promote medical research, United Way, and Jewish Federations. It’s also a common practice in estate planning. The word is spreading.
  • Life insurance is, plainly put, an underutilized way to help people leave a legacy.

A cautionary note: It is better for the not-for-profit to own the policy so that after years of paying premiums, the beneficiary doesn’t get changed by the policy owner. Make sure to run it past a lawyer because it has to be done in a certain way, to the benefit of everyone.

So help someone to hit the Good Deed button, they can make a difference in the lives of the people who will benefit from your organization!

We thank Steven Kobrin for his co-authoriship of this blog. Steve is a life insurance expert with over 25 years experience. He serves high net-worth individuals and business owners, as well as high risk and uninsurable “impaired cases.” Steven offers concierge life insurance process to ensure the policy is approved as it’s quoted. To learn more, visit his website, read his blog, connect with him on LinkedIn, or request a policy audit today by calling his office at (866) 633-1818 or by email at skobrin@stevenkobrin.com. Steven is a contributor to Investopedia; view his profile here.

Cool Apps: Chatbots

In the last year, chatbots have exploded. A chatbot, short for chat robot, uses artificial intelligence to imitate a conversation with people. One place they have exploded is the Facebook Messenger app, which is a free instant messaging platform.

To get Facebook Messenger, you can download the app on your smartphone or go to https://www.messenger.com on your PC or Mac in any browser.

In Messenger, a chatbot looks just like a person. All you need to do to connect to a chatbot is to go to the People section and enter the name of the bot you want to connect with. Typically, there will be a Get Started button. The bot may ask you some setup questions such as your time zone, city, or topic preferences.

Bots can do many things. There are bots to deliver the news daily (Chat Newswire), bots that entertain and play games, bots that help you find recipes and restaurants, bots that improve your productivity, bots that help kids with their homework (Christopher Bot), and even a bot that connects with QuickBooks (Freelanzr).

Each bot works a little differently. In general, you will receive a welcome message, then the conversation will begin. The bot will prompt you to ask a question, enter a phrase or a word, or select from a group of horizontal button choices.

Bots are useful for your daily routine. You can get daily news, weather, reminders, and tips. If you are stuck standing in line somewhere, riding public transportation, in an Uber or taxi, or experiencing other downtime, you can have several conversations with your bots to pass the time.

If you don’t know of any bots or wonder about a bot that does a specific thing, there are lots of bot directories available. To get you started, here is one bot list:  https://botlist.co/.

The cool part is you can design your own bot for your business which can be fun for customers. The Facebook Messenger platform is open, and you can find out more about how to create a bot here: https://messengerplatform.fb.com/.

There are more platforms for chatbots besides Facebook Messenger, including Twitter, Android, Slack, and Amazon Echo, to name a few that you can explore if you don’t care for Messenger or Facebook.

It’s still early for bots. The effectiveness of the bots depends on how well they are designed as well as how much time the user spends learning how to work with the bot. Try connecting with a couple of bots to see if they will be productive for you. If nothing else, your kids will love the game bots while they are standing in line with you.

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